A culture of maintenance is our joint responsibility

By Rita Sim | rita.sim@
03 January 2013

SOMETHING’S ROTTEN: A common attitude is ‘Everybody else is doing it’

THE wet market in Sungai Buloh, Selangor is a prominent landmark in the town. If you are a newly arrived visitor, you can find it by turning off from Jalan Kuala Selangor, or you can simply follow the smell of rubbish and rotten food.
At the food stalls near the market, residents sit and lament about the filthy state of the market. When they tire of that subject, they complain about other things and cap it off with a rant about politicians.
The situation is familiar in many other small towns and new villages that dot the landscape of Malaysia.
In the urban cities and suburban housing estates, things aren’t that dissimilar. There is always something to complain about, like traffic jams caused by drivers double-parking along the road or clogged drains.
To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, something is rotten in the state of Malaysia. But unlike what the original line in Hamlet suggests, it is not just the state at fault and neither should we look to “heaven to direct” the solution.
The truth is, there are so many great things going for this country. We are not lacking in opportunities or resources.
We do not have to worry about war, famine or natural disasters. Malaysians love their country, are willing to work hard and have a lot to contribute to the country’s success.
So why is it that we cannot get the simplest things right? Things like hygiene, public order and basic courtesy, which have nothing to do with politics or the national economy.
The local council should clean up the markets, we say. They should build more parking lots so that people wouldn’t have to double-park. They should have stricter enforcement to stop people from littering, jumping red lights, setting up stalls by the roadside and just about anything you can think of.
But before we blame politicians, the government or the local council, we should try some self-reflection.
Markets and coffeeshops do not magically become dirty by themselves. Someone threw the first piece of rubbish, followed by someone else and then dozens more people. Someone chose to double-park, instead of looking for a space further away that would require extra walking.
The problem with many Malaysians is that they think, “If someone else is already doing it, then it’s okay for me to do it.”
Where did this attitude come from? Is there something wrong with our education system?
There have been many complaints that our schools focus too rigidly on academic achievements through rote learning, without enough emphasis on building well-rounded individuals.
Indeed, we seem to be teaching our children how to compete with friends for better grades, instead of how to be decent people.
Can things like cleanliness and consideration even be taught in schools? Certainly they can, if teachers and parents themselves practise values like respect, responsibility and empathy.
Although the debate about the medium of instruction, teaching of science and maths in English, and academic standards are important, they cannot take place at the expense of our values.
We can pat ourselves on our backs for our national Gross Domestic Product, our modern infrastructure and our professional achievements, but beneath the shiny surface of these accomplishments, we have too many layers of problems.
And we will not be able to sustain our development or achieve the status that we dream of, if we do not acknowledge that we are at fault ourselves.
We have forgotten our budi bahasa, the only thing that matters when we strip away all our wealth and social status.
Read more: A culture of maintenance is our joint responsibility – Columnist – New Straits Times

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